On May 25, 2020, the day George Floyd died, a shift took place. It was a shift that sent tremors around the world. As online and offline activism arose, this sea of grief would stretch far and wide, weaving into waves of emotions often too heavy to name. But amongst the hard-to-define feelings, there was one sentiment the collective community could agree on: We are tired.
In the weeks following Floyd’s death, we took to every platform – from the streets to our feeds – passionately declaring yet again that Black Lives Matter. We cried out for justice both online and offline, sharing our experiences and demanding brands to be held accountable. During those weeks, with each thumb’s scroll, we were reminded that to be Black is to know pain.
By the time June 2, 2020, which was #BlackOutTuesday had come and gone, I experienced every emotion. Like many of us, some days were difficult to break away from what was happening in the news. Contrastingly, I also had days where I had no choice but to log off for the sake of self-care. But one particular Instagram post would remind me that while pain may be a very real part of our experience, it is not our whole story.
Self-care is choosing yourself. It’s about discovering what makes you feel taken care of and leaning into that.
The post’s content was simple: a carousel of videos – each one featuring Black people laughing hysterically. In it, I saw my own joy. The way we laugh with our whole body, heads rolled back wildly. Everything about the laughter was infectious – it was black joy personified. It was also the first time that week I was reminded that although sometimes we are tired, we are also laughter, love, and light, and we deserve joy just as much as we deserve justice.
The definition of black joy may differ depending on who you ask. For me, it is the freedom to lean all the way into the things that make us come alive. It is embracing our varied expressions of happiness. Some days black joy may look like falling in love, and other days it may be found in admiring a single sunset. black joy is loud and quiet, gentle, and strong. It can be found in the big things and the seemingly small.
And so why is black joy so important – especially in the world we navigate today? To be Black and joyful despite and against all the odds is an act of resistance. To choose joy is to say that regardless of years of systemic oppression, unfair disadvantages, and everything life may try to throw your way, in the words of the late Maya Angelou – “Still I Rise.”
Black joy is also important for representation. Have you ever considered how powerful it is to see positive images of Black people living their best lives and basking in their happiness? Not to mention the positive impact this will have on the next generation? The hashtag #blackboyjoy is one of many platforms where we see this in action. Every day, under this campaign, there are thousands of posts worldwide showcasing the glory and diversity of it. From Black men traveling to young Black boys dancing, with every post, we are reminded that our joy is possible, and it matters. With each snapshot, we challenge the negative stereotypes the world tries to perpetuate, and we take back our power, by painting our own narrative.
The beauty of black joy is that there is no one-size-fits-all rule. We are diverse in the ways we experience true happiness, and that variety is a necessary reminder that we are not homogenous as a culture. With that said, some essential practices tend to unite us. The self-care movement has been one of those; pivotal in the way it has encouraged us all to take better care of ourselves unapologetically.
This is especially important when we consider how previous generations and trauma can often necessitate that we showcase strength at all times and take care of others first. The “strong Black woman” narrative is one that we are now unlearning as we identify the damaging effects of placing this identity on us. Self-care is choosing yourself. It’s about discovering what makes you feel taken care of and leaning into that.
To be Black and joyful despite and against all the odds is an act of resistance.
Another significant ingredient in black joy is the beauty of being in a relationship with one another. Whether romantic or platonic, family or friend – humans were made for relationships. When we build intimacy and healthy connections with one another, it sparks joy. If the lockdown period has shown us anything, it’s to treasure these moments, but similarly, happiness can also be found in solitude. Solo travel, dating yourself, and self-discovery are just a few ways to say yes to self-care and are the building blocks of your self-love journey.
I’m challenging you to lean all the way into enjoyable moments and to laugh out loud with your entire being. The next time an injustice threatens your joy, remember that being Black is not exhausting, systemic racism is exhausting. So, look after yourself, hug your loved ones extra tight and take that solo trip because today, tomorrow, and every day after that, black joy is necessary.